Understanding the President’s Cabinet: Education Secretary
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Understanding the President’s Cabinet: Education Secretary

Note: This is the fourth in a weekly series of explanatory posts on the officials and agencies included in the President’s Cabinet. See the series introduction here.

Cabinet position: Secretary of Education

Department: U.S. Department of Education

Current Secretary: Betsy DeVos

Succession: The Secretary of Education is fifteenth in the presidential line of succession.

Department Mission: “[Education Department’s] mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

Congress established the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on May 4, 1980, in the Department of Education Organization Act (Public Law 96-88 of October 1979). Under this law, ED’s mission is to:

  • Strengthen the Federal commitment to assuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual;
  • Supplement and complement the efforts of states, the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the states, the private sector, public and private nonprofit educational research institutions, community-based organizations, parents, and students to improve the quality of education;
  • Encourage the increased involvement of the public, parents, and students in Federal education programs;
  • Promote improvements in the quality and usefulness of education through Federally supported research, evaluation, and sharing of information;
  • Improve the coordination of Federal education programs;
  • Improve the management of Federal education activities; and
  • Increase the accountability of Federal education programs to the President, the Congress, and the public.” (Source)

Department Budget: $69.4 billion (FY 2017). In addition, the Education Department provides over $150 billion in new and consolidated loans annually.

Number of employees: The Education Department has approximately 4,400.

Primary Duties of the Secretary: “The Secretary is responsible for the overall direction, supervision, and coordination of all activities of the Department and is the principal adviser to the President on Federal policies, programs and activities related to education in the United States.

The Deputy Secretary focuses on the development and implementation of policies, programs, and activities relating to elementary and secondary education matters. This mission addresses a wide spectrum of interests ranging from safe and drug free schools, special education and rehabilitative services to education of linguistically and culturally diverse students, and promotion of educational interventions, and reforms.

The Under Secretary focuses on higher and adult education policy, postsecondary policy, college aid, and the President’s financial aid reforms for the Pell Grant program.” (Source)

Secretary Info

Secretary: Elisabeth “Betsy” DeVos

Previous occupation: DeVos is the former chairman of The Windquest Group, a privately held investment and management firm based in Michigan.

Education: Bachelor of Arts degree from Calvin College.

Previous government experience: None

Religious Affiliation: DeVos grew up in the Christian Reformed Church and, more recently, was a member and served on the elder board of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan.

Notable achievements:

Acton Institute (former board member)

Alliance for School Choice (former chairman)

American Enterprise Institute (board member)

American Federation for Children (former chairman)

ArtPrize (board member)

Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation (chairman)

Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation (chairman)

Foundation for Excellence in Education (board member)

Kids Hope USA (former chairman)

Michigan Republican Party (former chairman)

The Philanthropy Roundtable (former chairman)


Notable quotes:

On educational equality: “Above all, I believe every child, no matter their zip code or their parents’ jobs, deserves access to a quality education.”

On educational standards and Common Core: “I am not a supporter [of the Common Core]—period. I do support high standards, strong accountability, and local control. When Governors such as John Engler, Mike Huckabee, and Mike Pence were driving the conversation on voluntary high standards driven by local voices, it all made sense. Have organizations that I have been a part of supported Common Core? Of course. But that’s not my position. Sometimes it’s not just students who need to do their homework. However, along the way, it got turned into a federalized boondoggle.”

On school choice: “We [DeVos and her husband] think of the educational choice movement as involving many parts: vouchers and tax credits, certainly, but also virtual schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and charter schools.”

On the politics of school choice: “[W]e [DeVos and her husband] believe that the only way that real education choice is going to be successfully implemented is by making it a bipartisan or a non-partisan issue. Until very recently, of course, that hasn’t been the case. Most of the Democrats have been supported by the teachers’ unions and, not surprisingly, have taken the side of the teachers’ unions. What we’ve tried to do is engage with Democrats, to make it politically safe for them to do what they know in their heart of hearts is the right thing. Education should be non-partisan.”

On cultural engagement: “[W]e went on a trip to Israel with a marvelous teacher who talked about the geography in Israel, where the coastal plain where the pagans lived, the Israelites lived in the foothills and the crescent in between was called the Schefela. And he really challenged all of us on that trip to be active in the Schefela. The Schefela where the cultures meet and that has been something that has been really impactful for both Dick and me, is to continue to think about where we can be the most effective or make the most impact in the culture in which we live today. And so, our desire is to be in that Schefela, to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways which will continue to help advance God’s kingdom. Not to stay in our own little safe territory.”

Next post in this series: Secretary of Defense

Previous and forthcoming posts in this series: Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Secretary of Homeland Security

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).